Living and designing with house plants

Living and designing with house plants

Want to make a bold statement with a major specimen plant, but afraid you’ll kill it? Is there any way to keep a pot from transferring moisture to hardwood floors? Here are some insights from the pros.

What are the basic questions to consider when choosing a large plant?

Interior landscape designer Elizabeth Price-Asher of Price-Ragen in Seattle tells clients to pick plants that fit their lifestyle because stress is more visible on big plants. “What plants want is consistency. Even low-maintenance plants prefer consistent neglect to on-again, off-again care.

“Just as important as choosing the right plant is choosing the right container. Plant and pot should read as a cohesive unit that doesn’t scream at you. It has to fit with everything else in the house. It’s broken all the time, but the general design rule of thumb for container size is one-third pot, two-thirds plant: get a 24-inch-high pot for a 6- to 7-foot tree. But trust your judgment. Get a plant-pot combination that you’re comfortable with, and keep it in proportion to the furniture around it.”

Price-Asher adds that most interior landscapers don’t actually repot their plants in heavy containers. That way they can pull out the inner plastic pots and take the plants outside when they need to spray for insects or disease.

Are there any plants that novices should simply forget about?

“Unless you’re pretty dedicated, forget Ficus benjamina – it’s really temperamental,” says Greg Hassen, president of Citiscape Design in Los Angeles, which specializes in corporate plant maintenance. “It doesn’t deal with change – in temperature, water, light – very well. Unless you’re really diligent, you’ll kill it. Ferns are difficult for the same reasons and one of the messiest plants you can get.

“Grape ivy is another problem plant: it needs to be in a cool, bright spot, and it gets mildew really easily.”

On the other hand, he says, beginners should have good luck with aspidistra, which will thrive almost anywhere, even in low light. “We use a lot of low-light-tolerant plants like Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’ and D. deremensis ‘Janet Craig’. They hold up pretty well, and you can really cut back on watering unless there’s a lot of heat. Chinese evergreen is also a really great, hardy indoor plant. It tolerates low light, doesn’t need much water, and doesn’t grow too fast – plus there are lots of varieties to choose from.”

What are the “designer” plants today?

Both Price-Asher and Hassen put Ficus ‘Alii’ and rhapis palms at the top of their lists.

“Ficus ‘Alii’ takes more abuse and holds its leaves better than Ficus benjamina,” says Hassen. “Rhapis palms are great because they’re slow-growing.”

Price-Asher adds Chamaedorea (bamboo palm), ming aralia, and cactus. “Cactus are really hot right now, particularly Cereus peruvianus and Euphorbia ingens.”

Can house plants coexist peacefully with my hardwood floors?

No problem, says Edward S. Korczak, executive director of the National Wood Flooring Association, as long as you keep the pot out of direct contact with the floor. “There are cork pads that do a good job at this, or those little terra-cotta or iron feet that support the saucer off the ground. The saucer by itself is not enough; it will transfer moisture to the floor.”

For floors that already have a water stain, Korczak shares a trade secret. “There’s a product on the market called Zud; it has oxalic acid in it. Mix it to the consistency of toothpaste, put it on the darkened area, let it dry back to a powder, then vacuum it up. The dark ring should be gone. It might take a couple of applications, but this trick works on water stains about 75 percent of the time.”

COPYRIGHT 1996 Sunset Publishing Corp.

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